A college student stands waiting outside the door of an empty chemistry lab. It is the scheduled hour for chemistry experiment. Standing with him are seven or eight other students, including me, also waiting for the experiment, and also for our fellow other friends. The student fears chemistry, and when it comes to chemistry practical, he is even more scared. Fear clinches to his throat every Tuesday afternoon, when he comes for chemistry practical. Now that the moment has arrived, he is quite nervous. He looks around at the other students, and comforts himself with the thought that he can’t possibly be made too conspicuous. He feared even to talk to his classmates, I seriously wished that he opened up atleast with his close friends. After all, we were all in the same boat !!

Finally the instructor came, and we all followed him into the laboratory like little chicks following their mother hen, with our lab records in one hand, and lab coats in the other. The instructor explained us the experiment and expected us to follow the procedure and carry out the experiment properly. Struggling with his fear, he tried hard to manage himself well in front of his friends; instead he messed up with himself, being made fun of every now and then. He did whatever his friends asked him to do, as if he was here just to follow the orders of his friends and come up to their expectations. Finally, he came up with an answer out of his experiment, an answer which didn’t match with the answers of the other students. A cold sweat drenched him !! People are led to believe that their own perceptions were seriously at variance with of other people. People are put into a state of conflict – they must decide whether to go along with the judgment of others or to stand alone. In either case, they experience misgivings, discomfort, and distress. If they resist, they feel that they may suffer scorn or ridicule from others. If they yield, they may feel that they are cowards and conformists. As such he feared chemistry experiment, and more the instructor, and to top it up, he gave an answer that didn’t match with any of the answer given by the other students. In nervousness and panic, he ended up breaking a test tube, along with a good deal of thrashing from the instructor. Evidently, the subject chemistry, his so-called friends and the instructor were like a stimulus for him, which created a response of fear in him, which resulted him in breaking the test-tubes and panicking. He couldn’t understand if he should go with the answers given by others, or he should stick to his own answer. He was simply confused. He had lost self-confidence, and could not make out as which was right and which was wrong. He wanted to go ahead with his answer, but had the fear of being rejected, made fun of, and being insulted by the instructor. He was afraid that his friends would again made fun of him. On top of all these, his fellow mates were teasing him about being ‘insane’, I could well understand that he was under ‘peer pressure’…

The problem of group pressure in society – pressure strong enough to move individuals to act against their beliefs and values – also raises many social issues which cannot be taken lightly. Peer pressure is one such problem which affects students both mentally and physically; being affected mentally is more dangerous. Although the judging of lines is perhaps not important or realistic in a mundane sense, since it doesn’t immediately remind us of a “real-world” situation, one cannot deny the impact of having one’s sensory input contradicted by everyone else in the group. To avoid such instances, field work is the best option, where a student gets to know the subject in a far better way. He experiences some freedom, and is in a better mental state. The problem is that, field work is not possible in every subject, but it should be encouraged as far as possible. The subject in this story suffers from the fear of chemistry subject, and is under serious peer pressure, which creates a sense of panic in him, and he ends up messing things.

“…Psychology has split and shattered the idea of a ‘person’, and has shown that there is something incalculable in each of us, which may at any moment rise to the surface and destroy our natural balance. We don’t know what we are like. We can’t know what others are like. How, then, can we put any trust in personal relationships, or cling to them in the gathering political storm? In theory we cannot. But in practice we can and do. For the purpose of living, one has to assume that the personality is solid, and the “self” is an entity, and to ignore all contrary evidences.”

                                       -E.M.Foster, “What I Believe”, in Two Cheers for Democracy
(London: Edward Arnold, 1951, pp. 77-78)

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